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The various subtypes of dragonborn in D&D 5e have different elemental resistances (acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison). Tieflings similarly have fire resistance, and I would estimate that a variant tiefling with, say, cold or poison resistance instead would be equally balanced.

However, suppose I want to give a player character race resistance to one of the physical types: bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing. For example, a dragonborn subtype with slashing as its one resistance, or a tiefling with piercing resistance.

Would this be overpowered?

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Depends on the race's other perks, but probably yes.

Bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage are the most common types of damage in the game. Nearly all monsters have at least one attack with one of those damage types. Barbarian's are so resilient because their rage makes them resist this.

If you just replace a race's "Resistance to Acid" by "Resistance to Bludgeoning", it's a decent power-up. It might not be OP, that would require a race-by-race analysis, but from my perspective, if I had to choose between resistance to one of the elemental types and one of the physical, I would ALWAYS choose one of the physical to resist to (unless I was a Barbarian). And having a choice that seems to always best another isn't good design.

If you lessened one of the race's other benefits, it would probably be balanced, but again, this requires a case-by-case analysis. If you intend to explore this further, I'd pose a homebrew analysis question on its own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not a full answer and to piggyback off BlueMoon's excellent answer, consider adding small penalties to circumvent this case-by-case race issue, either for perceived net-gain trade-offs (resistance to bludgeoning + vulnerable to acid) or thematic (resistance to piercing and -10 ft movement = "tougher, heavier scales") \$\endgroup\$ – Punintended Oct 7 '20 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Assuming OP gives a choice to the player as to which to be resistant to (or has different subraces or whatever) you could balance it with a Rock-Paper-Scissors weakness/resistance relationship between the damage types. i.e. Resist Bludgeoning, Weak to Piercing. Resist Piercing, Weak to Slashing, Resist Slashing, weak to Bludgeoning. \$\endgroup\$ – Robotnik Oct 7 '20 at 22:37
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I would recommend to use a comparison tool, such as this excellent 5e Homebrew Race Guide. While not an exact science, this guide did a good job of quantifying different traits.

They recommend having your homebrew race being between 24 and 27 points (PHB races have a mean score of 25). Resistance to Slashing or Piercing would be worth 10 points, with Bludgeoning being 12 points (as it helps against fall damage). Having a somewhat standard Ability Score Increase of +2/+1 is worth 12 points, so a race with +2/+1 and Resistance to Bludgeoning would already be at 24 points, putting it in the "balanced zone". Your homebrew budget would only allow for ribbon traits after that (e.g. a language or extra proficiency).

In short, having a single physical resistance is not overpowered, but it will be the one defining trait of the race, making it somewhat bland.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting. This guide estimates that fire resistance is worth 4 points, while slashing/piercing are worth 10, meaning that e.g. a slashing-resistant variant dragonborn would be significantly more powerful. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Oct 8 '20 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ A dragonborn is estimated at 21 points, making it one of the weaker races. Changing its elemental resistance to a slashing resistance would put it at 28 points, which is slightly above average, but not overpowered. A significant bump, but within tolerances. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex Millette Oct 8 '20 at 19:03

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